Dead Man's Switch


To obtain a list of existing software or programs performing dead man's switches, with a particular focus on examples being used in media, journalism, and activism.

Early Findings


  • A digital "dead man's switch" is a program designed to check in with the user periodically and, if the user doesn't respond within a given time frame, release certain materials, photos, documents, or correspondences either to the public or to certain designated recipients.
  • This type of program has a number of potential uses, one of which is as "insurance against violence or intimidation for journalists".
  • These programs are desirable because, as they're digitized, they're protected against censorship or other foils, such as the sender losing the ability to trigger the response.
  • Dead man's switches are also commonly used and referred to in politics, both in digitized and other formats.


  • The company Dead Man's Switch offers a number of digital packages offering dead man's switch programs.
  • The packages allow users to write and prescribe the recipients of emails, which will automatically be sent if periodic emails are not acknowledged by the user.
  • The company offers two accounts: one free, and one costing a one-time fee of $20.
  • With the free account, users are allowed to write up to two emails with two recipients each, whereas paid customers can write up to 100 emails for 100 recipients each.
  • Another company offering dead man's switch programs is Deadman, which allows users to receive periodic contact via phone, text, or e-mail. Should the contact be ignored, it will trigger the release of as many photos, documents, or electronic files as the user designates to as many people as are identified.
  • The company offers a variety of packages designed for various situations, one of which is the "whistle-blower" package. "Going to blow the whistle? Upload your important data to Deadman for safe keeping--Deadman will send it to whoever you want if you can't be reached. In case anyone asks: it's in good hands."
  • Users can sign up for free via Google, Facebook, Twitter, or email.
  • Though not explicitly termed a "dead man's switch", Google has a program called Inactive Account Manager which "is a way for users to share parts of their account data or notify someone if they’ve been inactive for a certain period of time".
  • Google reviews a variety of data, including "your last sign-ins, your recent activity in My Activity, usage of Gmail (e.g., the Gmail app on your phone), and Android check-ins" in order to determine whether a user is active. If it's found that they're not, a response is triggered which shares designated account materials with a designated recipient.

Proposed next steps:

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While our initial research was able to provide an overview of what dead man's switches are and examples of several companies and organizations providing similar services, we have not yet been able to focus on the use of dead man's switches for journalism, media, and/or activism specifically. As such, we would recommend continued research to provide a detailed overview of how dead man's switches are and have been used in these verticals, including at least five benefits of their use in that regard.
Additionally, we would recommend continued research to identify 5-7 specific examples of ways/times that dead man's switches have been used in journalism, media, and/or activism.